In the world of Pokémon, you will find that Pokémon raised by trainers are consistently stronger than wild Pokémon, even those of the same species and level. They will have higher stats (attack, defense, special attack, special defense, and speed), making them more effective and more capable than their wild counterparts. If we take a peek behind the scenes, we see that the reason for this is a system based on effort values (EVs). When a Pokémon is victorious in battle, it gains a certain number of EVs based on the Pokémon it defeated. These EVs come into play when the Pokémon levels up. Each time a Pokémon increases in level, its stats increase, making it progressively stronger. (Hence why a level 65 Charizard is significantly scarier than a level 36 Charizard.) EVs add a bonus increase to stats on top of the increase that comes with the level-up. Therefore, a Pokémon who works with a trainer will be stronger than a wild Pokémon of the same level.
There is something to be gleaned from this game mechanic to illustrate a mechanic of our spiritual walk. Our faith is often tested as we proceed through life: it is challenged by tragic experiences, tough questions, and valleys of uncertainty. We have a vibrant relationship with God, so why did our loved one die so early? We serve an all-powerful, all-good God, so why is there so much evil in the world? Things have been so dry and empty in our spiritual life lately, was there anything to it to begin with? It is not a question of if, but when we will be confronted with questions like these that upset our applecart and force us to critically think about our faith. As disheartening as these struggles are, we grow and come to better understand our faith as we work through them.
These struggles make us look under the hood of what we believe and force us to answer the question of why we believe. This does not mean that we will have a perfectly packaged answer for every question. What it does mean is that we have tempered our faith with these questions. We can learn a stupendous amount of information about the world around us through the many sciences and disciplines that have blossomed from the collective human psyche. However, there still remain questions that stubbornly evade the reach of these tools. These are questions addressed by faith and religion. They persist because they cannot be answered purely through logic and reason, we simply do not have the information at our disposal to do that. Thus, we find ourselves coming to grips with these problems, and, sometimes, God Himself, in a much more personal way. We come to God without pretense and with our hearts open to Him.
Of course, it is certainly easier to simply regurgitate a stock answer (a Sunday School answer, as they’re sometimes called) and thereby avoid engaging God or those things which question our faith. It is functionally little different than pulling the covers up over our heads. Sure, they let us move along, but we do not grow. Interestingly, there is another parallel we may draw from Pokémon. There is an item in the games called “Rare Candy.” Giving a Pokémon a Rare Candy makes it automatically level up using the minimum amount of experience needed. They can be useful if one needs to level up immediately, but there is a profound catch: levelling up with Rare Candy does not earn EVs which means that the bonuses they provide to stats will not be applied. The result is that a Pokémon levelled up using primarily Rare Candy will be weaker than a Pokémon who levels up by earning experience in battle. Likewise, if we constantly feed ourselves platitudes, we may be able to maintain our faith and say that we have been a Christian for years, but we will find that our relationship with God comes up woefully shallow when we need to draw from it.
Putting in the time and effort to train Pokémon with EVs yields stronger, more capable Pokémon. Similarly, when we put in the time and effort to think about and better understand our faith, it strengthens our relationship with God. In fact, it is not merely a matter of applying our faith but of letting our faith permeate the entirety of our lives. We do not withhold anything from God as if He were ineffective, but trust and lean fully on Him to help us and guide us through life’s challenges.